Populist party says Serbia PM to run for president

February 14, 2017
Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucic, listens to OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and Austrian Foreign Minister, Sebastian Kurz, during a press conference in Belgrade, Serbia, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017. Kurz is on a one-day visit to Serbia. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic will run for the presidency in the election in April, his ruling populist party said on Tuesday.

Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said after a Serbian Progressive Party meeting that Vucic was unanimously approved as its candidate.

Vucic said in an interview on Serbian state television that he has accepted the candidacy in order to “maintain continuity and stability.”

“This is of great importance for the future of Serbia,” he said.

The decision means that current pro-Russian president, fellow Serbian Progressive Tomislav Nikolic, will end his term, unless he decides to run for re-election independently.

Vucic said that “it would be good if we could continue to work together.”

Although Serbia’s presidency is largely ceremonial, the outcome of the election could determine whether the country continues on its EU membership path or will move toward its traditional Slavic ally Russia.

Vucic is a former ultranationalist turned pro-EU reformer.

The formal announcement of the date for the two-round vote is expected early next month, but numerous candidates have announced they are running.

They include ultranationalist leader Vojislav Seselj, a staunch pro-Russian who was acquitted of war crimes by a United Nations court, and former Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic.

Jeremic was president of the U.N. General Assembly in 2012-13 and a candidate to replace Secretary General Ban-Ki-moon in 2015.